WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court ruled Friday in favor of tour guides in the nation's capital who challenged licensing regulations that require guides to pay the government $200 and to pass a 100-question multiple choice exam.
The licensing requirement ensures that prospective guides are who they say they are and have at least a minimal grasp of the city's history and geography, the city has said in defending the rule.
In a 3-0 decision on a free speech issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the city failed to present any evidence the problems it sought to thwart actually exist.
The court said that even assuming the harms are real, there is no evidence the exam requirement is an appropriately tailored antidote.
"The city has provided no convincing explanation as to why a more finely tailored regulatory scheme would not work," appeals judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for the court.
In Washington, D.C., operating as a paid, unlicensed tour guide is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.
Lawyers for tour guides Tonia Edwards and Bill Main argued that the licensing requirement was an unconstitutional restriction on their First Amendment rights. Edwards and Main provide tours to small groups of people that rent Segways.
A federal judge had ruled in favor of the city, saying the requirement placed only incidental burdens on speech that were no greater than necessary to further the city's substantial interest in promoting the tourism industry.
The appeals court reversed, saying it found the record devoid of evidence supporting the burdens the challenged regulations impose.
"The First Amendment protects everyone who talks for a living, whether you're a journalist, a professor or a tour guide," Robert McNamara, an attorney in the case, said after Friday's ruling.
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